Sunday, March 1, 2015

Get thee behind me, Satan

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

It must have been quite a shock for St Peter when our Lord turned to him and said: 'Get thee behind me, Satan!' It would have been a stunningly harsh rebuke from a master to one of his most faithful followers at the best of times. But this was coming just moments after what we read about in Matthew 16, where Jesus asked all his disciples: 'who do people say that I am?' The others stumbled and stuttered over their replies, saying what they heard; and then Jesus asked them 'but who do you say that I am?' And it was St Peter alone who gave the answer: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Of them all, it was only St Peter who not only recognised who Jesus was, but wasn't afraid to say it out loud, in front of witnesses.

And how pleased St Peter must have been by his master's response. For Jesus answered him by saying: ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 

What a moment for St Peter! He has just been blessed by the Messiah and Son of God publicly in front of all the disciples; he has been told that God himself has given him the knowledge needed to recognise and declare who he is, in other words telling him he is a man of great holiness, one who is favoured by God himself for a direct and personal revelation; he is given a special new name by Christ – Peter or rock – and told that on that rock he would build his Church and that the rock of Peter's faith was so secure a foundation that all the powers of evil that exist could do nothing to bring it down; and then he ends by giving him what is often called the power of the keys, saying that whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven, words indicative that great authority was to be given to him.

St Peter must have been on a real emotional high; which would his fall all the greater when our Lord looked at him and said: 'Get thee behind me Satan!' One moment he is holy and blessed; the next he is the devil incarnate! Why did our Lord speak so harshly to him? It was because even though St Peter had not long before had spoken words inspired by the Father of us all, he was now speaking words inspired by the one who was the Father of Lies from the beginning. When St Peter called Jesus the Messiah and Son of God, he spoke of heavenly things; but when he spoke of trying to prevent our Lord going to Jerusalem for his passion and death his perspective was totally of this world. 

Remember how in St Luke's Gospel the evangelist says that after Satan had tempted Jesus in the wilderness and failed that he left him 'until an opportune time'? This was the opportune time and St Peter was his unwitting agent. He was again tempting our Lord, tempting him not to take up his cross, not to suffer and die for the salvation of us all. We know from the account of our Lord's agony in the garden of Gethsemane while he kept lonely vigil while he waited for his enemies to come and arrest him that he had no greater desire to be tortured and endure a painful death than any other man – 'Father, if you will, let this cup pass from me,' he prayed, his agony in those moments so great that sweat fell from him like drops of blood. But even in that time of suffering his response was that of simple obedience: 'but not my will, but thine be done.' And poor St Peter, well-intentioned though he doubtless thought himself, was actually attempting to persuade him to disobey the will of the Father. How aptly it has been said on so many occasions that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; and how many times have people, thinking they are being kind and compassionate, have pointed others along that road, when they should have instead given them the sometimes hard to hear answer that no matter how difficult you may find it, there is a toll to be paid for those who would walk the road to heaven, and that toll is to deny yourself and take up your cross.

No doubt St Peter was humbled in that moment. And we know that it was to be quite a while before he understood what his master was about. He didn't understand when he abandoned Jesus in the Garden; he didn't understand when he denied even knowing him three times in the courtyard that night; he didn't understand when he stood, wide-mouthed with amazement, before the empty tomb on Easter morning, he didn't understand while he huddled with all the rest in an upper room for fear of the Jews after the Ascension. He didn't really being to understand until the day of Pentecost when he was filled with the Holy Spirit and went out and boldly proclaimed the word from that day on until the day of his death in Rome many years later. From that moment on he understood that to do the will of the Father sometimes involves hardship, suffering, perhaps even death, at the last literally taking up a cross of his own to die a martyrs death; but knew it was worth it; because he knew that it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world if by so doing they forfeit eternal life.

Therefore let us make this Lent a time of strengthening ourselves to resist the temptations of the world that we may,like our Lord and like St Peter, take up our cross that we may gain for ourselves the crown of eternal life. Amen

Examin Sunday 1 Mar 2015

The sin of our first parents was to use their God-given free-will to be disobedient towards God. The result is that all mankind since has had a propensity for sin. But the same free-will that allows us to sin also allows us to repent and turn back to God. Make this season of Lent a season of turning to God and turning from sin. Through prayer and the use of the intelligence God gave you discern where it is that you struggle most to obey his will. Remember that sin is not simply what you 'feel' bad about; look to the Sacred Scriptures and Church teaching for guidance as to how it is that you sin. Then, praying for strength to turn away from all that has tempted you in the past, use your free will to decide that you will turn your back on them for-evermore.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Molly Sterling - a star is born

Last night's Late, Late Show was all about picking Ireland's entry for this year's Eurovision song-contest. When Molly Sterling started singing it became about something else. I think it became instead the moment a star was born. Listen to her sing and you'll know what I mean. She's only 16 years old; she co-wrote the song; it was written for the album she's working on; and she's still in school! But listening to the depth and maturity of her voice and the words she sings it is near impossible to believe that they are the product of an adolescent. I don't particularly care for the term 'old soul' but if there is such a thing than this young woman is it.

The vagaries of the voting on the song-contest are such that it is impossible to predict how she'll do (although the thought did flash through my mind last night about thirty seconds after she took to the stage that if she was chosen to represent Ireland then a trip to the bookies next morning to lay down a serious wager on her ultimate success might prove to be a wise investment - alas! I'm not a betting man). But no matter. Molly Sterling is amazing and it is hard not to think that a wonderful career awaits her. 

prayer diary Saturday 28 Feb (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

'You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' 
Matthew 5. 43, 44

How can Christ tell us to love our enemies? How are we to control our feelings and do such a thing? But our Lord does not ask the impossible because love is not an emotion, it is a decision. To love God, love our neighbour, and love our enemies all are equally possible; it is a matter of deciding to do so and then living it out in our lives.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, RIP

Leonard Nimoy died this morning. I know it is silly in a way to feel as if it is some kind of a personal loss when someone we only knew through television and the silver screen passes away, but it is hard not to take it that way. I grew up watching Star Trek. Spock was my favourite character, preferred over even Captain James T Kirk. Kirk may have been the hero, but Spock was the moral heart of that fictional world and the enduring internal conflict he suffered because of the two cultures from which he came made him not only endearing, but impossible not to empathise with.

If you weren't a fan of the show, much of what I said will make little sense. No matter. The man who brought that character to life has has crossed the final frontier to go where so many have gone before; may he find it a place where he will, by God's mercy, live long and prosper. 

prayer diary Friday 27 Feb (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

‘You have heard it said ... “You shall not murder” … But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement.' 
Matthew 5. 21,22

Christ calls us to be perfect, even as he is perfect. Let this season of discipline and self-denial be an aid to you in answering that call, even as you pray for his help.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Russell Brand condemns porn and porn culture

Not really being a Russell Brand fan, there's no way I would have watched this video in the usual way of things ... and if I came across it accidentally, I would have presumed he was either going to make light of the subject or be a cheerleader for all things porn - or both (I know - judgemental of me - mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa).

But ... when I came across this on an Orthodox Christian site I follow, Byzantine Texas, I thought to myself 'hmm ... now this isn't the kind of site that would post this if this was a paean of praise to porn ... maybe it's OK to watch it ... the start, anyway and see how it goes' ...or words to that effect! (a comment in the BT combox makes much the same point)

So I began ... watched the whole thing ... found myself nodding along with wackily put points ... and thus I share it with you.